The vendor's role within the channel can be held analogous to the motor industry. Selling through the channel can itself be compared to buying a car - the focus needs must be on the system offered rather than the supply of products.
Ten years ago, car dealers were concerned only with supplying their products.
Now, franchised dealers are driven by manufacturers and changing customer needs.
The customer proposition now includes the potential to bundle finance, merchandise and warranties with flexible offerings. In today's market, no vendor can afford complacency in terms of fulfilment. With hardening margins and alternative new and emerging channels of distribution, it is imperative that customers get value for money, are happy with the end result, and receive continued support from the vendor. Manufacturers need to listen to and act on their customers and channel to match changing needs.
Vendors have developed a variety of channel strategies, all differing from each other, but essentially tailored to meet the needs of their channel and customers.
Looking back about five years, Microsoft took on a more cohesive approach, but when considering the simplicity of the product set and its drive within a predominantly applications-based model, this comes as no surprise.
Since then, rapid product development has increased the availability and breadth of applications for all types of business. This evolution has changed the way vendors need to structure their channel strategies.
In Microsoft's case, it has made it a more complex job, while at the same time provided us with the opportunity to meet the needs of individual organisations.
The role of the channel supplier has expanded over time. Today it is not just a matter of selling the product and pushing the customer out the door. Customers expect more when purchasing products, including sales expertise, after-sales support and training.
It is important from a vendor's perspective to ensure that customers understand where they should go to fulfil specific IT requirements, and appreciate the value of using a reseller.
The vendor has a role to play in building its channel's credibility with the customer by equipping that channel player with the right knowledge, skill set and marketing tools. The vendor must also focus on increasing customer awareness of its channel's credentials.
As well as supporting its segmented channel, Microsoft's approach is to have a number of authorised service partners who provide the customer with necessary follow-up service and support.
Implementing a tailored partner strategy enables Microsoft to enhance its partners' competence and expertise and provide an efficient service to customers.
Listening to customer feedback and addressing their needs through programmes, training and support is one of the most important parts of a vendor's channel strategy and frankly, it's their responsibility. It gives both parties the opportunity to mutually benefit from core business knowledge and skills. At the end of the day, we are all driven by changing customer needs and it is the customers' needs that ultimately drive us all.
Chris Lewis is corporate and customer unit manager at Microsoft.
Automation firms UiPath and Automation Anywhere close out their funding rounds with $265m and $300m respectively
View photos of last night's awards ceremony in London
View photos of all the winners from the 2018 Channel Awards
After a glittering awards evening in Battersea celebrating 25 years of the Awards, we are pleased to share the list of winners and judges' commended winners